Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 17, 2000Volume 29, Number 11

Once a land that "had to live up to someone else's expectations," India is now making great strides both domestically and internationally, said Inder Kumar Gujral, one of that nation's former prime ministers.

India enjoying 'moment of pride
and promise,' says former leader

The relationship between India and the United States has sometimes "drifted without steady course," but the two countries today have a great responsibility to "start a new and purposeful direction," said former Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral during a visit to Yale.

Gujral was prime minister from 1997 to 1998 before his coalition government collapsed and he resigned. He spoke to a large gathering of students, faculty members and other guests in Dwight Chapel on Nov. 10.

Together, India and the United States represent one-fifth of the world's people and more than one-quarter of the world's economy, Gujral noted. Both nations, he said, share a commitment to freedom and democracy, and have common bonds that "run strong and deep." It is in their mutual interest to focus on their commonalities as each nation does its part to promote peace and democracy throughout the world, stated the former prime minister.

"The 21st-century world will depend on our cooperation, our common interest and our common responsibility," Gujral contended.

Chief among these responsibilities is to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons throughout the world, stressed Gujral, who has also served three times as India's foreign minister.

"Some people, I know, have doubts about [India's] faith in such a hope," said Gujral, alluding to the tensions that arose when India launched nuclear tests two years ago. As prime minister, Gujral had defended India's nuclear tests, saying that his country's security was endangered because it is surrounded by other nations with atomic weapons.

In his Yale talk, Gujral said India was one of the first countries since 1950 that has "consistently demanded the halting of nuclear tests." A comprehensive ban on such tests is "the first step" toward attaining a planet "free of weapons of mass destruction," he stated.

The former prime minister also focused his talk on the progress of his own nation, citing agricultural modernization and reform, advances in scientific technology, grassroots democratic reform and economic growth as some of India's greatest accomplishments in recent years.

Today, India no longer depends upon imports for grain, and instead is an exporter of food grains, Gujral said. Indian scientists, he commented, "have done our country proud" by breaking new ground in developing electronics and software, and the country is "brimming with entrepreneurial skills." Furthermore, he said, India's rapidly growing middle class offers evidence of the country's economic successes: If India maintains the 7%-per-year growth rate it has averaged in the last several years, the nation will emerge as the fourth-largest economy by the year 2015.

India would benefit further by forging new economic relationships with the United States, the former prime minister said, adding that the United States "needs to be a more accessible market for Indian exports."

In the domestic sphere, Gujral admitted that his country still faces great challenges, particularly in the areas of poverty, education and health care, but said that India's more recent strides are part of an ongoing "building process" that has taken place since the country achieved independence five decades ago. He noted that India was subjected to foreign rule for 5,000 years, during which time his country "had to live up to someone else's expectations."

Today, as "masters of [their] own destiny," said Gujral, Indians are committed to meeting their country's challenges and continuing their progress. Contrary to some predictions that an independent India would never have peace within its own borders because of its religious diversity, Gujral said, "I'm glad to say this has proven to be dramatically false." He noted that he, a Pakistani refugee in India, was able to hold senior government positions, and pointed out that the post of prime minister has recently been occupied by a Hindu (himself), two Muslims and a Sikh -- which he said was a testament to Indians' commitment to unity and religious freedom.

"I see an India proud of the changes that we have witnessed, upholding democratic traditions, secure in unity and with strong economic foundations laid thus far," said Gujral. "This, to me, is a moment of pride and promise."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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